Insignificant and ubiquitous, this common weed is nevertheless elegantly constructed, as a close view of the flower spike shows us. The plant lifts a number of green obelisks into the air from a rosette of spoon-shaped leaves, and dozens or hundreds of tiny white flowers burst forth along each obelisk. The show is over quickly, leaving nothing but a weedy green stem, but it’s worth getting out a magnifying glass while the flowers are in bloom.
Gray describes the genus and the species:
PLANTÀGO [Tourn.] L. PLANTAIN. RIBWORT. Calyx of 4 imbricated persistent sepals, mostly with dry membranaceous margins. Corolla salver-form or rotate, withering on the pod, the border 4-parted. Stamens 4, or rarely 2, in all or some flowers with long and weak exserted filaments, and fugacious 2-celled anthers. Ovary 2 (or in no. 6 [P. decipiens] falsely 3-4)-celled, with 1-several ovules in each cell. Style and long hairy stigma single, filiform. Capsule 2-celled, 2-several-seeded, opening transversely, во that the top falls off like a lid and the loose partition (which bears the peltate seeds) falls away. Embryo straight, in fleshy albumen. — Leaves ribbed. Flowers whitish, small, in a bracted spike or head, raised on a naked scape. (The Latin name.)
P. major L. (common P.) Smooth or rather hairy, sometimes roughish; leaves thick and leathery, 0.6-3 dm. long, the blade from broad-elliptic to cordateovate, undulate or more or less toothed, the broad petiole channeled; scapes 1.6-0 dm. high, commonly curved-ascending; spike dense, obtuse, becoming 1-4 dm. long; sepals round-ovate or obovate; capsule ovoid, circumscissile near the middle, 8-18-seeded; seeds angled, reticulated. — Waysides and near dwellings, exceedingly common. Fig. 002.—Sometimes with leafy-bracted scapes or with paniculate-branched inflorescences. (Cosmopolitan.)